How many employees does an employer have to have in order to be covered by the federal and Georgia disability discrimination laws?

Disability discrimination claims can be brought under either Georgia law or federal law. Title I of the ADA applies to employers, employment agencies, labor organizations or joint labor-management committees. The Act became applicable to employers with 15 or more employees, beginning July 26, 1994. Under Georgia law, the same number of employees is required to file a claim for disability discrimination.

What must an employee prove in order to win in a disability discrimination lawsuit?

A prima facie case of disability discrimination in Georgia is shown by proving the following elements: “(1) he is disabled; (2) he is a qualified individual; and (3) he was subjected to unlawful discrimination because of his disability.”  Holly v. Clairson Indus. L.C.C., 492 F.3d 1247, 1255 (11th Cir. 2007).

What is the definition of disability under Georgia’s disability discrimination law?

Disability is defined in Georgia under the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability.

Since the amendments to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act in 2008, the definition of disability has been broadened somewhat under federal law.

What happens after it is determined that the employee is disabled and that the employer is covered by the anti-discrimination laws?

Once it is determined that someone has a disability, certain other issues arise which must be ascertained before obligations on the part of the employer arise. Probably the most important issue is whether the employee can perform the essential functions of the position at issue, either with or without reasonable accommodation.

What factors are examined to determine whether there is a reasonable accommodation for the disabled employee?

In determining the availability of a reasonable accommodation, the employer and the employee must engage in an interactive process. The legal sufficiency of that interactive process depends on the factual circumstances of each individual case. However, the failure of an employer to engage in the interactive process at all can lead to liability. An important point in this regard is whether or not the accommodation settled upon makes it so that the employee can perform the essential functions of the position thereby making the employee qualified for the position.

There is no doubt about it this is a very tricky area of law for employers. What makes it even more difficult to deal with is that with few exceptions, conduct resulting from disability is considered to be part of the disability rather than a separate basis for termination.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an employer is not required to excuse past misconduct that violated a uniformly applied conduct rule that is job-related and consistent with business necessity, but an employer must make a reasonable accommodation to enable an otherwise qualified employee with a disability to meet that conduct standard in the future, except when the punishment for the violation is termination.

A number of court decisions have dealt with the difficult issue of an employer’s entitlement to discipline an employee for conduct that is arguably the product of a mental disability or of a condition such as alcoholism or drug addiction.
In Humphrey v. Memorial Hospitals Ass’n, 239 F.3d 1128 (9th Cir. 2001), the Ninth Circuit, reversing summary judgment, held that the employer could not deny a requested accommodation by citing the plaintiff’s past disciplinary problems, where those disciplinary problems–lateness and absenteeism–had been the result of the same disability–obsessive-compulsive disorder–for which the employee was seeking accommodation.

However, an employee who is disabled may be held to the same standards of performance and behavior as other employees. 42 U.S.C. § 12114(c)(4).

So, in your case, it will be important to analyze the facts to determine whether or not there were allegations by the employer of workplace misconduct and whether that alleged misconduct was related to your disability. If it was related to the disability, then an adverse employment action may have violated the ADA and Georgia law.

If you believe that your employer has treated you wrongly, call me at (912) 244-3999 to schedule an initial consultation so we can sit down and talk about the facts of your case and so that I can give you my opinion about whether or not you have a case.